Goal update

I promise I’m not going to update you on how my 2017 goals are coming along on a regular basis but I’m so excited about this that I had to share.

Goal number three (finishing the novel) continues apace, but today I made a step toward (hopefully) completing goal number one (making an accessory or piece of apparel that I like enough to actually use).  Today, I bought some fairly heavy weight black denim for the outside of a messenger bag.  And the inside–be still my geeky little heart!–will be this delightful Darth Vader print in teal.  So, it’ll be grown up, functional adult on the outside, total teenage geek on the inside.  You know, just like me!  I’m so excited.

We’re almost half way through January–how are your New Year’s goals coming along?

Keep Pedaling

 

bikeConfession: it’s been three days since I’ve done anything with my manuscript.

I have some good excuses.  On Thursday, I had a much needed evening out with some friends and didn’t get home until late.  On Friday, I planned to take a bath and read through a recently edited part, but I got distracted and forgot to bring the pages into the bathroom before sliding into the water.  Once I was in, it seemed like too much work to get out to get it.  Yesterday, I planned to do some work on it after the kids went to bed, but it snowed during the day so I had to shovel and by the time I got done, I was tired and only had a little time before I needed to go to bed, so I watched an episode of 30 Rock and folded laundry instead.  See?  None of those are objectively terrible reasons not to work on a manuscript.

But not working on your novel is a habit you can slip into pretty easily.  So even if you’ve got good reasons why you couldn’t or didn’t work, it’s important not to let them sap your momentum.  Think of it this way: writing is like riding a bike.  It’s hard to get the bike going, but once you do it doesn’t take a lot to keep it going.  And if you’ve got some good momentum going, then going uphill is a whole lot easier.  And that good momentum can also make those downhill sections even more exhilarating.

So, taking a day or two off is like just stopping for a quick water break.  It can be restorative.  If you time it correctly, then getting back on the bike and moving again can be no problem.  It can be easy and fun, even.  It’s just that you don’t want to decide to turn that water break into getting all the way off the bike and, I don’t know, buying a condo and storing the bike in the garage so that you can feel guilty every time you walk past it.

Today, I’m getting back on the bike.  The only way to get to the end of this thing is to keep moving forward.  So you’ve got to keep pedaling.

This picture has nothing to do with this post…

mountains…But I wanted to look at something pretty while I complain about something.

It’s been my experience that people who become and people who aspire to become professional writers are the people for whom writing has always been easy.  Something about writing just makes sense to us.  Many of us showed early promise.  Many of us were always the star writers in our class or the star writers in our school.  Teachers praised us for our work even when we put in minimal effort simply because our minimal effort was better than much of the work our peers were doing.

That all sounds great, but actually it’s a bad thing.  It’s a really bad thing.  Because if writing is always easy, working hard at it doesn’t necessarily become part of your process.  In fact, having to work hard at writing feels wrong.  I would guess that a lot of the people who never finish that novel (or novels) are the people who get to the hard part and go, Well, this clearly isn’t working.  Let’s try something else.  That has been me many a time.

But the thing is is that writing is work.  Writing is supposed to be work.  Pushing yourself to do better and write better means having to work.  The process of turning something from merely good or okay to great (or at least marketable) involves lots and lots of tedious work, lots and lots of refining and rewriting and frustration.

That’s where I am with my current project.  There are so many things that need to be fixed.  Many of them are fixable, but it takes a lot of focus and a lot of writes and rewrites.  The idea of tearing the manuscript apart, of cutting out big chunks, of rewriting other massive parts (literally an entire 50 page section has to be rewritten) is daunting.

Plus, it doesn’t fit with my normal conception of how successful writers work.  I don’t imagine Stephen King sitting at his desk with his head in his hands trying to figure out how to get his characters to move organically to where he needs them.  I don’t imagine J.K. Rowling rearranging chapters so that the flow works better.  I don’t imagine George R.R. Martin fretting over a plot point not working and not being sure how to fix it (actually, that last one is a bad example–I can totally picture Martin doing that.  I think that’s probably all he does when he sits it down because that book is never going to get finished).

But probably, they all do that.  Probably they all have moments where they want to give the fuck up.  They don’t, though.  The publication of their books is proof of that.  My suspicion is that that is much of the difference between people who get published and people who don’t–the people who get published are the ones with enough grit to keep going even when they reach these places.  If you want to be one of those, even if your normal inclination isn’t to stick with something that’s gotten hard, you’re going to have to figure out how to keep going through the slog.

So, I guess this post is really a little bit of a pep talk, mostly for myself but if you need it too, that’s great.  We can finish our projects!  We will!  These hard parts are part of writing.  We just have to buckle down and not let ourselves get distracted by the internet and television and life.  We can do this!  Write write write!

What’s your trick for breaking through the tough parts?

Who’s got crackers?

‘Cuz they’d go great with a post this full of whine. #momjokes

The thing about writing is that so little of it happens on the actual page. For every hour that I spend with my pen on the paper or my fingers on the keyboard, there are probably five hours spent thinking, planning, working out problems.

I have found over the years that one of the best ways to get that thinking underway is to go for a walk.  I think it’s about distracting the parts of your brain that focus on what your body does by doing something simple (like walking), thus letting the rest of your brain run unencumbered.  It’s like how people have good ideas while brushing their teeth and in the shower.  Give yourself something mundane to do and the rest of your brain can go on its own walk.

So, here’s the whine: I have a big problem in my writing that I need to solve.  I know that if I were to go for a walk to think about it for a while, I’d at least start to solve it.  But because it’s cold out (see that snow?) and because my kids are here, I can’t exactly go tripping out the door.  So, here I sit, staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself, no closer to solving my problem than when I discovered it.

What do you do when you can’t access your normal problem solving routine?

Where I write

By now, if you’ve been reading the blog, you probably can tell what my writing looks like: printed draft on white paper and a yellow lined legal pad in a red binder, always accompanied by a black pen and a red pen.  Every writer has his or her set up that works–this is mine.  

And if you follow the blog, you’ve probably also seen my set up on a green and brown bedspread–that’s my bed. I work in bed a lot, just because of when I typically have time to write:just before bed.

But actually, the picture above is where my writing usually lives–on my counter (I know–white counter tops. Whose brilliant idea was that? Certainly not a person who cooks.).  The reality of being a writer with small children, and one who doesn’t make enough to justify paying for childcare for the sake of writing, is that you have to steal every single second that you write.  Those few minutes when the tub is filling and the kids are getting undressed?  Rewrite a sentence.  Dinner is simmering and the kids are watching an episode of Curious George?  Spend a minute writing an extra paragraph.  

It sounds like the world’s worst writing advice.  “Having trouble finding time to write?  Just stop taking any time where you’re not actively doing work!”. It’s not quite that, I promise.  Instead, it’s about keeping your writing where you are.  For me, separating writing from my “regular life” and carving out a time where I am Writing (capitalization intentional) would mean that it never got done.  Instead, keeping writing where I am, enmeshing it fully in the rest of my life means that I am always writing.  I am always just a moment away from reworking a problematic phrase or coming up with a delightful bon mot for one of my characters.

Everybody’s got their own flow. This is mine. Honestly, even if I fulfill my dreams and writing becomes a full time career, I’m not sure I’ll change it.

What’s your preferred set up?

Singin’ in the new year

Tonight, I’m going to ring in the new year by watching Singin’ in the Rain.  With the passing of Debbie Reynolds just a day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, it’s tinged with sadness.  But after showing my four year old the video of “Good Mornin'” and seeing her delight, I think it’s safe to say she’ll be delighting audiences for generations.  It might be cold comfort, but it’ll do.  

Hope you all have a healthy and happy new year.  Here’s to a better 2017.

Happy New Year!

PrintWell, happy new year’s eve, I suppose.

I hope you’re all planning a fun (and safe) new year celebration.  We’re all a little anxious to ring out 2016 (though 2017 doesn’t exactly have a rosy glow about it, does it).

Anyway, on to new year’s resolutions.  Or, as I said earlier, new year’s goals.  This year, I’m setting three, which can be roughly broken down into three broad categories: 1.) something kind of frivolous and fun, 2.) something that scares the shit out of me, and 3.) something I’ve been putting off for a long time.

Something Frivolous

This year, I will make an article of clothing or an accessory that is well constructed enough and attractive enough that I use it regularly.  I said earlier that I got really into sewing in the last few months.  I’ve made a few small projects that I mostly gave away as Christmas gifts.  Now I’d like to really take some time and put in some effort to make something that I would like to wear or use.  On the easy end would be something like this.  But, since I got the two books by Gretchen Hirsh for Christmas, I’m really drawn to this dress and this blouse.  Obviously, those would require a lot more skill than the bag.  So it’ll come down to how ambitious I’m feeling.  But, one way or another, by the time new year’s eve 2017 rolls around, I want to have something I’ve made that I can wear around.

Something Terrifying

This year, I’m going to attend that annual Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City and (gulp!) participate in the pitch slam.  I’ve been to writer’s conferences before–they’re always interesting and fun–but I’ve always gone with a friend.  This is the first time that I’ll be flying solo.  As a committed introvert, the idea of networking is enough to induce some pretty good anxiety.  And the idea of sitting in front of an industry professional and selling myself and my project makes me feel like I need to lie down for a little while.  But there are two reasons I need to do this.  1.) If I want to be a writer for real, I need to make it happen.  A book contract isn’t just going to come to me because I’m such an awesome writer–I’m going to have to draw it in and that’s going to happen by making an effort.  And 2.) getting out of my comfort zone every now and then is an important part of personal growth.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I’d embarrass myself, say something I regret, or fail to make people like me.  Those would all be painful, but I could survive them.  The potential benefits outweigh the risks.  I’m doing this.

Something I’ve Been Putting Off

I’ve been meaning to finish the book for literally five years now.  It’s time.  And if I’m going to do the pitch slam, I’m going to need to have a finished project, just on the off chance that they say, “That sounds great.  I’d love to read it.”  I’ve put this off way too long.  It’s time to get this done.

So, there we are.  My goals for the next year.  What are yours?  Anything that you’re scared of?  Excited about?  Anything that feels like just a big old chore but which will be nice to have out of the way?

A complete rebuild

One of the worst parts of writing is the moment when you realize that you’re going to have to completely rewrite a significant section of a work.  It’s not just gutting to have to slash thousands of words, words that you may have felt were hard enough to get out the first time.  But the idea of starting from scratch can be daunting and disheartening.  Like thinking that you were almost at the peak on a particularly hard hike, only to realize it’s just a little plateau and the peak is really another several hundred feet up.

When that happens, I highly suggest chocolate.  Alcohol is tempting, but most people can’t write drunk.  (Most people aren’t Earnest Hemingway, obviously).  But chocolate won’t dull your senses.  It’ll just soothe your bruised soul, remind you that it’s going to be okay, and whisper a few sweet nothings about how you’ll totally go to the gym tomorrow so have another ha dful.  Then you can get back to work.